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On the Hoofs of a Dilemma : If potbellied pigs are legalized, swinish behavior will take on new meaning for singles

December 17, 1995

As any single adult knows all too well, one question can dwarf almost all others: identifying the most politically correct way to approach other singles. Yet one face-saving method has remained blissfully safe, simple, respectful and generally above reproach. Just compliment, rave over, and talk to the person's pet before saying anything else.

That technique eliminates those "crash and burn" rejection possibilities that sometimes lead to the need for antidepressants and serious counseling. So what, for example, if the owner doesn't respond? You've gotten your answer; and you were talking to the pet anyway, right?

Ah, but if the owner of said pet smiles and allows you to pay homage to her little companion, all manner of friendly conversation can ensue.

Since cats are better at discerning insincere verbiage and petting on the part of strangers, it's always been better that the pets, in these circumstances, have mostly been dogs. But now, even this last oasis of safe, initial verbal contact may be under assault, and this city's already tattered social framework may hang in the balance.

Just what should one say, for example, when the pet one has to compliment is a 150- or 200-pound potbellied pig? "My, I haven't seen swine like that since . . . well, since last Sunday in the meat section."

Surely, you see the problem.

This is one of the issues at stake as the Los Angeles City Council fumbles with the question of whether to license potbellied pigs as exotic pets. Frankly, we're astounded that the council hasn't even entertained this angle of the debate.

We know that the city's Department of Animal Regulation supports the idea, and that the city's Planning Department is opposed.

We know that owners need to be warned that the cute little 10-pound baby pig in the window may eventually outweigh everyone in the household. And there are ethical questions, such as whether it is proper to keep such an animal penned up in your apartment all day.

But we are also concerned with the already frayed state of human relations here. If the sanctioning of pigs as exotic pets leads to another buying spree of these animals, single adults around the region will have to learn swine etiquette. Just think of the huge phone bills to agricultural schools from people trying to bone up on the subject.

And what is accepted social behavior? Do you offer a pig a bone, a Frisbee, a stick, a pile of mud? And is the latter a vile, stereotypical myth that should never be repeated?

Is Los Angeles just too tense to stir another ingredient into the pot? Should the matter be tabled in favor of calmer times? The council must weigh all of this carefully. We don't envy its task.

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